What makes a good Metaphysical Poets exam answer?

Try to be different

  • It is amazing how many candidates choose the same three or four poems to answer any number of questions. Typically, these are The Sunne Rising; The Good Morrow; The Flea; A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning; Batter my heart; The Collar; To his Coy Mistress. There are equally good other poems to illustrate your answer or to analyse. You need to show the examiner you have not been spoon-fed answers.
  • If you are asked to answer from ‘TWO or THREE poets', don't necessarily start with John Donne.
  • Try to find examples of conceits others than fleas and pairs of compasses.

What to Prepare

  • Be sure of the main features of metaphysical poetry, and have examples ready.
  • Have to hand several series of poems that compare well with one another. The Themes and significant ideas already provides such groupings to do with themes. But have some groups which are linked by imagery, verse form and genre (e.g. pastoral; elegies and odes; lyrics and songs).

Show your Knowledge

  • You will probably be invited to focus on TWO or THREE poems or poets. But show that you know other poems and poets by passing references and comparisons. Don't spend much time doing it, but try to show what you do know.
  • Similarly, try to show by a passing remark that you understand any biblical, scientific or philosophical references, but don't stop to explain them at length unless it is central to your argument. The examiner will already know the explanation.
  • It is always more difficult writing about a number of poets rather than just one. If you can do it well, then you will impress the examiner immensely. But know your limitations. If you really feel you would do best sticking to just one poet, then choose those questions that allow you to do so. Don't choose a question that invites discussion of TWO poets, and then spend 90% of your time talking about your favourite before going on to the other.
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